Given the concerns over possible reductions of basic social services that are supported by the state budget—health, education, safety, transportation, and others—we will need to form coalitions to save programs and services that are essential for our economic and social development.
I invite those who are committed to the economic and educational advancement of our State to join forces with a basic appeal: to protect and expand the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP provides state funds to college students for tuition and supplements other forms of economic support from the federal government, such as Pell grants and students loans. Our proposal regarding TAP is very simple: to restore the $75 per annum that was cut from the students’ awards last year, and in addition, to increase annual TAP awards by 5%. My suggestion of a 5% annual increase results from balancing the increasing cost of college tuition in recent years on the one hand, and the fiscal reality that Albany is facing, on the other.
In addition to increasing the funding that TAP provides, legislators should reconsider some of the changes that were made in the program last year, particularly those regarding the definition “satisfactory academic progress”. Demanding that students take more courses and earn higher grade point averages to qualify for TAP, jeopardizes the education of many of our most needy students.
In previous columns, I have stressed the importance for the Latino community of protecting the budgets of public universities, particularly those of the community colleges. Part of the solution for emerging out from our economic and fiscal crisis is to invest in the education of our community. To accomplish this, we need fiscal support the state and also from the private sector.
I have not doubts the proposal to increase the TAP Program would have the support of all sectors from the educational, social, and business communities. TAP funds are available to students who register in both private (non-for-profit) and public colleges, thus having a democratic and equalitarian effect in their distribution. TAP funding favors one group only: our students!
In the months ahead, there will be plenty to debate on how to improve our State’s finances. Let us facilitate the debate by identifying key tools for our present and future development, such as the TAP Program, and by deciding that TAP will be one of the programs we will all agree to be indispensable to expand and improve. It’s that simple.
Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, Ph. D.
President of Hostos Community College.